Discovering that hordes of insects have made your garden their next buffet lunch can cause anyone to reach for the most toxic chemical repellant out there, just to get rid of ’em – fast. Before you decide to race off to your local garden center though, take a minute and look into using a non-chemical approach for controlling critters. Keeping poison out of your yard will help keep pests away from you and the ones you love.
Go Au Naturale
Non-chemical pest control methods have advantages over standard chemical pest control. They are generally effective for longer periods of time versus chemicals. Not to mention, they cost less. Pests do not build up immunity to non-chemical treatments the way they do manmade chemicals. Natural pest control has fewer restrictions since they are safe for humans and the environment. There are two basic categories of non-chemical pest control – biological and manual treatments.
Biological Pest Controls
- Beneficial Predators
- Purple Martins and other birds that eat insects
- Lady Bugs
- Parasitoids – These are miniature wasps that lay their eggs inside the pest. When the young are born they kill the host insect.
- Microscopic Pathogens – These are fungi, bacteria and viruses like milky spore disease, which attacks Japanese Beetles. Many of these can be found commercially.
- Biochemical pesticides – These include pheromones that lure insects into traps and juvenile hormones, which interfere with the insect’s normal growth and reproductive functions.
Manual Methods of Pest Control
- Spading and hoeing to cut up weeds and eliminate insect breeding sites
- Hand picking weeds
- Setting traps for rats, mice and other critters so they can be re-released elsewhere
- Mulching to reduce weed growth
Good Bugs vs. Bad Bugs
Not every bug has to die. There are actually some insects out there that are beneficial for your garden. If you use chemical pesticides you run the risk of killing off the good bugs as well as the bad. Here are a few friendly critters that you may want to welcome into your garden.
- Brachonids, Chalcids and Ichneumon – Leaf eating caterpillars
- Lady Bugs – Aphids, mites, white flies and scale
- Lacewings – Aphids
- Hover flies – Aphids
- Praying Mantas – Most insects
- Nematodes – Cutworms and Beetles
A Sprinkle a Day Keeps Bugs Away
If you are just overrun with pests and need something to stem the tide, there are plenty of non-toxic remedies you can buy or make yourself. One of the best is called Diatomaceous earth (food grade). It is a chalky power made from the fossilized remains of Diatoms, which is a type of hard shelled algae. This multi-purposed talc prevents everything from earwigs, slugs and other soft bodied pests to fleas, ants and cockroaches. Just sprinkle it around the edge of your garden or lawn (anywhere the insects will crawl through it) and the pests will pick up the dust and die. Warning: You can even use it to treat Fido for fleas!
The Best Defense is a Good Offense
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that homeowners actually use about three times the amount of chemical pesticides in their yards and gardens than farmers. That’s a scary statistic when you consider that the water runoff from homes in your neighborhood may wind up in your drinking water. What is the best way to rid your garden or lawn of pests? The best defense is a good offense. Start with a healthy garden or lawn.
- Pull out weak plants – They may be infected or can attract pests.
- Build up healthy organic soil – Top dressing your soil with compost or natural fertilizer will help develop strong plants.
- Use seaweed mulch or spray – Seaweed contains trace elements of iron, zinc and sulfur, which will enhance growth. It also repels some insects.
- Get rid of debris – Minimize insect habitat.
- Interplant and rotate crops – Insects usually like certain plants. Planting in different areas of your yard each season will keep pests from coming back and spreading.
- Keep foliage dry – Water early so foliage can dry. Wet plants encourage fungi growth and insect damage.
- Disinfect – If you’ve been working with infected plants, clean tools before moving to another area of garden.
Learn more about different types of pesticides (organic pesticides do exist), in our blog post
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